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Editorial: Report reinforces need to act

Editorial: Report reinforces need to act

New information about fatal Jay Street fire should spur further review of policies

It’s one thing not to do anything about something you’ve seen because you don’t know what you’re looking at.

It’s another to blatantly ignore the multiple warnings of others who did know what they were looking at and who specifically predicted fatal consequences for failing to heed their concerns.

A scathing report by the grand jury investigating the March 2015 fire on Jay Street that killed four people revealed another layer of culpability for the city of Schenectady and its Bureau of Code Enforcement.

The report, dated May 2017 and released Monday, found that buildings and code officers ignored 14 separate warnings from the fire department in the two years leading up to the fire about the conditions at the building.

The fire department became so frustrated at the inaction by the codes department that it stopped sending in reports, indicating that there were more violations that went unreported.

One of the reports predicted what would happen, and did happen, if the violations weren’t addressed: “Building poses numerous hazards that can/will be fatal to its occupants and EMS agencies.”

As one commenter to the article on the report stated, “This makes me sick.”

It should. It demonstrates not only passive ignorance of violations by city officials, but an active and willful dismissal of legitimate warnings.

The district attorney noted that the city had addressed some of the issues pointed out in the grand jury report, but needed to do more.

For instance, putting buildings and codes under the authority of the public safety commissioner, as the city has since done, might have ensured that the fire department’s dire concerns about the building were heeded and acted upon.

The report also demonstrates the need for greater transparency and disclosure in the entire process.

When people have information about such dangers and feel as if they aren’t being heard, they should have an alternative avenue for getting the attention of others in a position act, such as the city council.

Also, how much more valuable would this grand jury report have been had it been shared with city officials and the public a year ago when it was issued?

Officials with such important recommendations for public safety should have the ability, willingness and obligation to share this kind of information immediately. Maybe the city would have enacted its recommendations sooner, perhaps averting another tragedy. 

This report tells us even more about how flawed the city’s codes system was leading up to the fire, and gives city officials more recommendations to follow.

It should make you sick.

It also should make all government officials, in Schenectady and beyond, looking for every way possible to make sure this can’t happen again.

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